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Math gets book of clarity; Ads on buses start; Trust on Internet is questioned; More teachers wanted

Math Gets Book Of Clarity

Math can be confusing for many people. It's not uncommon for math content and instruction to baffle elementary teachers, typically generalists without math degrees.

The national scene is muddled as well. "Forty-nine of the 50 states have curriculum frameworks that range from 30 to 100 objectives annually. Coherence is a concern," states National Council of Teachers of Mathematics President Francis Fennel.

The No Child Left Behind act and mandatory annual testing in grades 3-8 raise questions, too. Are states testing the right content?

Confused leaders can turn to a new resource for answers. In September, NCTM released Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics.

The 40-page booklet is designed to spur discussions within states and school districts about key objectives at each grade level, explains Fennel. The publication identifies three core learning objectives per grade to provide state and district leaders a way to identify important mathematics content at each grade. The publication does not call for teachers to focus on a few basic skills. Instead it identifies and links multiple, essential math building blocks.

"This is nothing new. What we're saying is make sure students know these concepts well at this grade," says Fennel.

For example, grade 3 math instruction should focus on building students' understanding of how multiplication and division work and relate to each other. The following year extends students' understanding by focusing on facts and different ways to complete the operations. At grade 6, students connect ratio and rate to multiplication and division to expand the types of problems they can solve.

Focal Points builds on NCTM's standards-Curriculum and Evaluation Standards as well as Principles and Standards, published in 1989 and 2000 respectively. Math leaders can review and compare the standards documents and Focal Points to frame discussions about math content. Focal Points does not specify how to teach or what materials to use.

Although it is not a required set of standards or curriculum guide, Fennel believes Focal Points will have a significant impact. Educators can use the booklet to ensure tests and textbooks reflect important content. Focal Points can serve as a springboard for decisions about appropriate instruction and curriculum, and it can guide professional development about successful methods for teaching key content, sums Fennel. -Lisa Fratt

Trust On Internet Is Questioned

Trust is hard to come by when it comes to gleaning information off the Internet, according to a recent survey of educators.

More than 400 secondary school educators participated in the survey, which was conducted by Questia Media Inc., an online educational research resource.

The main reason that educators are concerned about students' ability to discern trusted, reliable information in their online research, although most want them to do such research, is that there is simply too much information on the Internet.

But 84 percent say they trust previously published journals and newspaper and magazine articles, while 86 percent trust online library sites. On the other hand, less than 20 percent trust open source Web sites such as Wikipedia. And 64 percent of educators worry about cheating and

More Teachers Wanted

Increased student enrollment and elevated teacher turnover are contributing to a teacher shortage in the U.S., according to a report by Education Commission of the States.

Over the next decade, 2.2 million teachers will be needed, exceeding the annual production of new teachers. And schools in high-poverty urban and rural districts will require more than 700,000 new teachers in the same time period.

Poor working conditions are discouraging potential teachers from choosing the profession. Only 17 states offer incentives for hard-to-staff schools.

Gov. Vetoes Textbook Bill

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill that would have prohibited teaching or textbooks that negatively portray people based on

sexual orientation. The governor claimed existing law already protects against discrimination.

The bill in its initial form required textbooks to include political and cultural contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, according to a story at

School Leaders See Little Problem

More than half of the nation's superintendents consider local schools to be "excellent," and most superintendents and principals say low academic standards are not a serious problem, according to Public Agenda's Reality Check 2006 report.

But more superintendents and principals, 67 percent and 78 percent respectively, in mainly minority schools are more likely to say the dropout problem is more serious compared to those in mainly white districts, 36 percent of both.

Learning How to Survive After School

Knowing how to verbalize goals, learning how to act, and in the end, getting a successfull job are some lessons students are learning under a new training program. At Sacramento New Technology High School, a charter school under the New Technology Foundation, part of the students' education will involve learning the Job Journey transitional skills program, which is just over a year old and exists in eight states.

The New Technology Foundation has 24 high schools in seven states. High Tech High programs in California used the program's model when it opened a few years ago, says foundation CEO Susan Schilling.

The New Technology schools, which have no more than 400 students each, are focused on 21st century learning where teachers do team teaching, such as integrating English and history as well as science and math, and students use technology to do projects while they cover required state standards. "The kids are doing the work in the context of projects and that makes the learning relevant to students," says Schilling.

Using the Job Journey at Sacramento New Technology High is just another benefit. "Sacramento New Technology High School holds kids accountable and so does Job Journey," says Barbara Dwyer, CEO and founder of the Job Journey. It will be taught to sophomores during the course of the day, she says.

"The Job Journey is the kind of program our students have asked for" to learn what employers are looking for and how to market their strengths, says Paula Hanzel, principal of Sacramento New Tech High.

Part of the program has students list qualities they possess and then has them think of real situations in the past that prove those qualities, such as when they went shopping and returned $10 to a cashier who miscounted their money and accidentally overpaid them, Dwyer says.

Knocking on Doors in Texas

Over the past two years, Houston Independent School District volunteers and school officials have brought back to school roughly 800 dropouts out of 250,000 students. And last May, 250 of the ex-dropouts graduated, according to

Houston is the largest school district in the U.S. to get volunteers to knock on doors of dropouts to get them back to school.

Radio-Full Classrooms

Radio warnings of an impending storm can save lives, or at least limbs. So the Homeland Security Department has decided to provide $5 million to ensure short-range radios are in every public school, according to

The National Weather Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, operates more than 950 short-range radio stations.

It was initially designed to deliver weather warnings, but now it covers terrorism, abducted children and derailed trains carrying toxic materials. Weather experts will assist school officials in how best to use the radios.

NOAA pointed out that more than 10,000 major thunderstorms, 2,500 floods and 1,000 tornadoes hit the U.S. every year, along with hurricanes.

Mediocre Classes

About two-thirds of American students attend classes in states with mediocre or worse expectations for what their students should learn, according to findings of a recent report.

The State of State Standards 2006, from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, evaluates state academic standards and found that the average state grade is "C-," the same as six years prior even though most states had revised their standards since 2000.

But there was good news. Some analyses show a link beween strong state standards and gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress: Ten states made significant progress in the percentage of fourth-graders reaching proficiency in reading.

New Laptops In New Mexico

The state of New Mexico just bought 1,544 HP notebook computers for seventh-graders as part of the 2007 New Mexico Laptop Learning Initiative.

According to the state's Implementation and Evaluation Plan of 2003, the laptop initiative, initially started in 2003-2004 in six schools, was based on the idea that "technology and innovation play key roles in New Mexico's economic future and in enhancing learning opportunities for students and teachers."

LearnKey, an e-learning company, also installed a computer literacy program on each laptop to help students who lack technology and computer skills.

Quality Education Report

High expectations of students and giving extra support in the way of tutoring and other help can close achievement gaps between poor and minority students and white counterparts in U.S. schools.

This is a big lesson in a recent study conducted by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, which was founded in 1969 as an arm of the Civil Rights Coalition. LCCREF uses research and education campaigns to promote the need for national policies that support civil rights and social and economic justice.

The report, Realize the Dream: Quality Education Is a Civil Right, explains how well-run education programs can inform policies and how wise policies can encourage effective education reforms.

No single policy or idea can make or break a school, but programs revealed in the report rely on energetic and committed leadership that filters down to principals and teachers to create a nurturing environment. For example, the report states that all students must have high quality supplemental and after-school programs. Higher Achievement, which is held after school and during the summer, helps close the achievement gap by offering underserved middle school students a year-round education and high school preparatory program.

"So many places just discount the ability of black and Latino students to do hard work," says David Goldberg, the report's author.

But San Jose Unified School District defied popular belief, says Goldberg, also program manager of education reform and special counsel at LCCREF. A few years ago, administrators at San Jose, led by former superintendent of schools Linda Murray, wanted to ensure every student graduated capable of attending a University of California school because graduation standards in most California schools were not high enough to get into the university system. "So they raised the graduation standards significantly," Goldberg says. All students are now required to take three years of college preparatory math and science and two years of foreign language.

And they blew out of the water the fallacy that when graduation standards rise, more students will drop out, Goldberg adds. Graduation rates actually rose from 71 percent in 1998 to 74 percent in 2004 at San Jose, which mostly has Latino students.

They created a system so that students who were struggling were not tracked into remedial courses. By high school, every student was qualified to take an Advanced Placement class. The Latino participation rate in AP classes more than doubled over roughly five years.

Among the steps made: offering Saturday academies and educational partnerships with local community colleges to supplement learning.

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